CRUCIAL TOPICS IN THE DEBATE ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF EXTERNAL REASONS

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1 CRUCIAL TOPICS IN THE DEBATE ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF EXTERNAL REASONS By MARANATHA JOY HAYES A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA

2 2007 Maranatha Joy Hayes 2

3 To your mom 3

4 thesis. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I thank all of the members of my committee for their assistance and support in writing this 4

5 TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGMENTS...4 ABSTRACT...6 CHAPTER 1 PROBLEMS WITH WILLIAMS INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL REASONS...8 page Introduction...8 My Summary of Williams Argument...9 My Main Argument against Williams A DEFENSE OF CHRISTINE KORSGAARD S SKEPTICISM ABOUT PRACTICAL REASON...28 Introduction...28 My Summary of Korsgaard s Argument...29 My Defense of Korsgaard THE NORMATIVITY OR NON-NORMATIVITY OF INSTRUMENTAL REASON...39 Introduction...39 My Summary of Korsgaard s Argument...41 Hubin s Objection to the First Horn of Korsgaard s Dilemma...44 Hubin s Objection to the Second Horn of Korsgaard s Dilemma...46 LIST OF REFERENCES...54 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

6 Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts CRICIAL TOPICS IN THE DEBATE ABOUT THE EXISTENCE OF EXTERNAL REASONS Chair: David Copp Major: Philosophy By Maranatha Joy Hayes May 2007 Three major issues that arise in the discussion of whether external reasons exist are questions about how agents acquire motivations, what processes of reasoning are possible, and how agents ends are determined. The answers to any of these questions will largely determine the outcome of the debate over whether external reasons exist. A crucial claim in Bernard Williams argument that external reasons do not exist is that a reason must have the capacity to motivate an agent. He says that because candidates for external reasons cannot motivate agents, external reasons do not exist at all. If we accept Williams requirement that if something is to count as a reason it must have the capacity of motivating us, then much of the debate about whether external reasons exist rests on what we discover about motivation. The question of whether agents can acquire the motivation to act on external reasons to a large extent rests on what kinds of practical reasoning it is possible for agents to engage in. It is possible for externalists and internalists to both accept the same theory of motivation, and yet fail to agree on whether this theory of motivation leaves room for the existence of a process of reasoning that can lead to the discovery of external reasons and the ability to become motivated by them 6

7 Finally, another important question in the debate over whether external reasons exist is how agents ends are determined. Some reasons theorists think ends are determined by the agent s desires while others think ends are determined by prudence or morality. I am largely sympathetic to the revised Humean theory of motivation, but I am skeptical about the conclusions that Williams draws from this theory namely, that pure practical reasoning (through which an agent may be able to discover and become motivated by external reasons) does not exist and that an agent s ends are determined solely by his desires and the other elements in his subjective motivational set. 7

8 CHAPTER 1 PROBLEMS WITH WILLIAMS INTERNAL AND EXTERNAL REASONS Introduction In Internal and External Reasons, Bernard Williams argues that all external reason statements are false or incoherent. In arguing for this thesis, Williams offers a requirement that he claims anything must meet in order to qualify as a reason for action. This requirement states that any reason for action must have the possibility of being someone s reason for action on a particular occasion, and have the possibility of figuring into an explanation of that action. Williams also claims that all practical reasoning that can result in the acquisition of a new motivation must begin with prior motivations. Presumably, this means that any new motivation that an agent adopts must be introduced through some existing motivation. For example, Williams might claim that I cannot adopt the motivation to do something because it is rational unless I am already motivated to be rational. It is somewhat unclear just how strong Williams wishes to make his motivational requirement. In this chapter I will show that the arguments that utilize the stronger and the weaker interpretations of Williams motivational requirement are both potentially problematic. On the stronger interpretation of his requirement, Williams has not provided an argument for why an agent can only acquire a new motivation through some existing motivation. Additionally, he has not shown how it would follow from the truth of that claim that it is not possible for an agent to acquire the new motivation through rational deliberation. The argument that uses the weaker interpretation of Williams motivational requirement is problematic for similar reasons. Finally, it is unclear why Williams thinks the external reasons theorist cannot meet his challenge to explain what it is that an agent comes to believe when he believes he has 8

9 reason to do something. In response to this challenge, I will offer a possible answer on behalf of the externalist. My Summary of Williams Argument According to Williams, there are two interpretations of reasons statements that take the following form. A has reason to ф. There is a reason for A to ф. Williams defines the two interpretations of these reasons statements as follows: On the internal reasons interpretation, the above sentences are true only if there is some end or motive A has that will be promoted by his φ-ing. On the external reasons interpretation, the above sentences can be true regardless of whether A has some end or motive within his subjective motivational set that will be promoted by his ф-ing.1 Williams offers four propositions that he claims to be true of internal reasons statements. Note in reading these propositions that S stands for the agent s subjective motivational set, which Williams defines as the agent s set of desires, dispositions of evaluation, patterns of emotional reaction, personal loyalties, various projects, embodying commitments of the agent, etc. 2 In short, an agent s S includes anything that might serve as some sort of end for the agent. The four propositions that Williams claims are true of internal reasons statements are as follows: An internal reason statement is falsified by the absence of some appropriate element from [the agent s] S. 3 A member of S, D, will not give A a reason for ф-ing if either the existence of D is dependent on a false belief, or A s belief in the relevance of ф-ing to the satisfaction of D is false. 4 1 Williams, Bernard. Internal and External Reasons. In Darwall, Gibbard, and Railton, Moral Discourse and Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p Ibid, p Ibid, p Ibid, p

10 a. A may falsely believe an internal reason statement about himself. b. A may not know some true internal reason statement about himself. 5 Internal reason statements can be discovered in deliberative reasoning. 6 Williams offers these propositions in order to make the internal reasons interpretation as plausible as possible and in order to avoid the most obvious objections against internalism. He also outlines an account of practical reasoning that he claims to be compatible with internalism. As a result of such processes an agent can come to see that he has reason to do something which he did not see he had reason to do at all. In this way, the deliberative process can add new actions for which there are internal reasons, just as it can add new internal reasons for given actions. The deliberative process can also subtract elements from S. Reflection may lead the agent to see that some belief is false, and hence realize that he has in fact no reason to do something he thought he had reason to do. More subtly, he may think he has reason to promote some development because he has not exercised his imagination enough about what it would be like if it came about. In his unaided deliberative reason, or encouraged by the persuasions of others, he may come to have some more concrete sense of what would be involved, and lose his desire for it, just as, positively, the imagination can create new possibilities and new desires. 7 Williams attempt to show how this process of practical reasoning is compatible with internalism is important for two reasons. First, it makes the internalist position appear more plausible because it reveals the way in which reasoning can still fit into it. Second, it puts a heavy burden on the external reasons theorist to explain how external reasons exist and are truly distinct from internal reasons because it explains how reasons that are accessed through a process of practical reasoning can still count as internal reasons. Williams claims that on the external reasons interpretation, a person has reason to act in a particular way even if the action in question does not promote any of the ends in the agent s subjective motivational set. To assist him in considering the plausibility of the claim that external reasons can exist, Williams offers the following case. 5 Ibid, p Ibid, p Ibid, p

11 (The Owen Wingrave Case) Owen Wingrave s father urges Owen to join the army for reasons involving the necessity and importance of the army and the value of tradition and family pride. However, Owen has no motivation to join the army he lacks the desire to do so and does not like what the army stands for. However, Owen eventually changes his mind due to his father s persuasion, finally accepting that there is in fact a reason for him to join the army. 8 In evaluating the plausibility of the claim that some external reasons statements are true, Williams asks how Owen might come to believe that he has a reason to join the army and become motivated by that reason through a process of reasoning that differs from that offered in his account of internal reasons. As his first step in showing how any given external reason statement must be false, Williams offers the following requirement. (Williams Motivational Requirement) In considering what an external reason statement might mean, we have to remember again the dimension of possible explanation, a consideration which applies to any reason for action. If something can be a reason for action, then it could be someone s reason for acting on a particular occasion, and it would then figure in an explanation of that action. 9 Williams claims that the external reason statement cannot by itself explain Owen s action. This is because if the external reason statement were true, it was true even when Owen had no motivation to join the army, since by definition external reasons statements are true regardless of whether the agent has any motivation to act on them. 10 Suppose Owen does have an external reason to join the army. Because external reasons are true regardless of the agent s motivation, Owen had a reason to join the army both before and after he understood that there was a reason to do so and acquired the motivation to do so. Therefore, the mere truth of the external reason statement Owen has a reason to join the army, does not make external reason statement meet Williams motivational requirement. In order for 8 Ibid, p Ibid, p Ibid, p

12 the external reasons theorist to show how external reasons can meet this requirement, he must explain what caused Owen to change his mind and accept that he had a reason to join the army when previously he saw no reason to do so. In other words, Williams claims, the externalist must come up with some psychological link between the external reason statement and the action it helps motivate in order to show how the external reason can meet his motivational requirement. Williams claims that the psychological link most often offered by the external reasons theorist is belief. The externalist claims that Owen can acquire the motivation to join the army by coming to believe that he has a reason to do so. Once this process occurs, an external reason can explain a person s action (such as Owen s action) in the same way that an internal reason can. Because Owen believes that he has a reason to join the army, joining the army becomes one of Owen s new ends. Williams claims that a reason must meet the following two conditions in order to meet his motivational requirement and still count as an external reason. (a) If an agent has a reason to φ, it must be possible for the agent to acquire the motivation to φ simply through deliberating correctly. 11 (b) If an agent has a reason to φ, it must be possible for the agent to acquire the motivation to φ regardless of what other motivations he originally had. 12 Williams offers requirement (b) because he thinks that a reason can only meet requirement (a) if it also meets requirement (b). Owen might be so persuaded by his father s moving rhetoric that he acquired both the motivation and the belief. But this excludes an element which the external reasons theorist essentially wants, that the agent should acquire the motivation because he comes to believe the reason statement, and that he should do the latter, moreover, because, in some way, he is considering the matter aright. If the theorist is to hold on to these conditions, he will, I think, have to make the condition under which the agent appropriately comes to have the 11 Ibid, p Ibid, p

13 motivation something like this, that he should deliberate correctly; and the external reasons statement itself will have to be taken as roughly equivalent to or at least entailing, the claim that if the agent rationally deliberated, then, whatever motivations he originally had, he would come to be motivated to φ. 13 In other words, requirement (a) is the one we should really be paying attention to. Requirement (b) is only worth paying attention to if Williams is right that a reason needs to meet that requirement in order to meet requirement (a). Initially, it looks as if the external reason offered in the Owen Wingrave case meets both of these conditions. First, it is conceivable that Owen comes to believe that he has a reason to φ because he deliberates about the matter rightly and comes to realize the importance of family tradition and honor, and so the reason in the Owen Wingrave case appears to meet the first condition Williams offers. It also seems that the reason in the Owen Wingrave case meets the second condition. At the beginning of the Wingrave story, Owen Wingrave has no motivation to join the army at all, and all his desires lead in another direction: he hates everything about military life and what it means. 14 Because the story indicates that Owen only realized that he had a reason to join the army after his father offered him a series of arguments, it appears that the reason meets condition (b), since Owen acquired the motivation to join the army even though he originally had a strong aversion to it. Williams claims that this psychological link (belief) offered by the external reasons theorist is not sufficient to explain how external reasons can meet requirements (a) and (b). Further, Williams is convinced that it is not possible for a reason to meet requirements (a) and (b). It is very plausible to suppose that all external reason statements are false. For, ex hypothesi, there is no motivation for the agent to deliberate from, to reach this new motivation, what has to hold for external reason statements to be true, on this line of interpretation, is that the new motivation could be in some way rationally arrived at, granted the earlier motivations. Yet at the same time it must not bear to the earlier 13 Ibid, p Ibid, p

14 motivations the kind of rational relation which we considered in the earlier discussion of deliberation for in that case an internal reason statement would have been true in the first place. 15 Williams claims that conditions (a) and (b) cannot be met because in order to become motivated to φ, there must be some motivation (which arises from the elements already present in the agent s S) that the agent deliberates from in order to arrive at the new motivation to φ. If one can only gain a new motivation through deliberation that begins with existing motivations, then it is not possible for an agent to (a) acquire the motivation to φ simply through deliberating correctly or (b) acquire the motivation to φ regardless of what other motivations he originally had, since the types of deliberation that can result in motivation are limited by what motivations the agent already has or does not have. One might object to my interpretation of the above passage (as meaning that any new motivation must be introduced through some existing motivation) by pointing to the passage in which Williams states that an agent can discover new actions for which there are internal reasons as well as new internal reasons for certain actions. Williams claims that the discovery of new reasons might be the result of learning new facts or of simply exercising one s imagination about what the result of certain actions might be. Through the use of his imagination, or through the discovery of facts, an agent might add elements to his S. 16 Someone might claim that this passage indicates Williams does not think that an agent s process of reasoning is determined or limited by the elements already present in that agent s S. However, the passage in which Williams claims that an agent must deliberate from an old motivation in order to reach a new motivation indicates that even the kinds of reasoning that Williams claims can add new motivations or subtract old motivations are limited by the 15 Ibid, p Ibid, p

15 motivations that the agent already has. For example, suppose an undergraduate wants to go to law school, but once he sees the material he would be studying he realizes that the classes would be so boring to him that he could not endure the three years of law school. In this way, through his unaided deliberative reason, the student looses his desire to go to law school. In the end, he loses this desire because he is motivated to avoid engaging in activities that are boring, and because he discovers through imagination and reason that law school would be boring. These passages (in which Williams claims that an agent must deliberate from an old motivation in order to acquire a new motivation and in which he claims that an agent can discover new reasons through imagination and reason) together seem to indicate that even when an agent acquires an entirely new motive or loses an existing motive, the changes in his motivations are still limited by what motivations the agent already had. Another reason to believe that my interpretation of the above passage is correct is that unless Williams is claiming that new motivations can only be introduced through existing motivations, the passage does not do the work Williams wants it to do. If this is not what Williams is claiming, he has not shown why Owen cannot be motivated by an external reason. It may help at this point to illustrate the problem Williams is trying to raise through the use of the Owen Wingrave case. To meet conditions (a) and (b) Owen Wingrave needs to deliberate correctly and he must be able to acquire the motivation to do what he has reason to do regardless of what elements were already in his S. This means that the way in which Owen deliberates should not be limited by his existing motivations (and thus the elements in his S). Williams says, for example, Owen might be so persuaded by his father s moving rhetoric that he acquired both the motivation and the belief. But this excludes an element which the external reasons theorist essentially wants, that the agent should acquire the motivation because he comes to believe 15

16 the reason statement, and that he should do the latter, moreover, because, in some way, he is considering the matter aright. 17 If Owen is motivated to act because of his father s moving rhetoric, then it is an internal reason, not an external reason, which motivates. The main difficulty here is that the rational processes by which Owen can acquire new motivations are limited by his existing motivations, which are in turn limited by the elements already present in Owen s S. By claiming any reasoning that results in the acquisition of a new motivation must occur because of existing motivations, Williams is already claiming that the types of reasoning by which an agent might gain the motivation to act on an external reason do not exist at all. Williams claims that the externalist might reply to his argument by offering the following definition of what it means to be a rational agent. (Externalist Definition of a Rational Agent) A rational agent is one who has a general disposition in his S to do what (he believes) there is a reason for him to do. 18 Williams argues that this move does not help the external reasons theorist show that external reason statements can be true because this constraint still does not answer Williams demand that the external reasons theorist explain what it is that the agent comes to believe when he comes to believe he has reason to do something. But this reply merely puts off the problem. It reapplies the desire and belief model (roughly speaking) of explanation to the actions in question, but using a desire and a belief the content of which are in question. What is it that one comes to believe when he comes to believe that there is a reason for him to φ, if it is not the proposition that, if he deliberated rationally, he would be motivated to act appropriately? We were asking how any true proposition could have that content; it cannot help, in answering that, to appeal to a supposed desire which is activated by a belief which has that very content. 19 By making this move to describe how external reasons might motivate, the external reasons theorist is merely invoking the desire of a rational agent to do what he has reason to do. In other 17 Ibid, p Ibid, p Ibid, p

17 words, the externalist still has not explained the content of what one believes when he believes he has reason to do something. Another reason that Williams might think this reply fails is because by introducing this constraint, the external reasons theorist still fails to meet requirement (b), that if an agent has an external reason to φ it must be possible for the agent to acquire the motivation to φ regardless of what other motivations he originally had. If an agent becomes motivated to φ because his existing motivations in some way cause him to acquire the new motivation, Williams thinks that his reason to φ turns out to be an internal reason after all. Because the externalist is working it into the case that the agent is already motivated to do what he believes there is a reason for him to do, Williams thinks the externalist gives the reason in question the features of an internal reason. According to Williams, the result is that the externalist definition of a rational agent does not allow the external reasons theorist to show how external reasons can meet Williams requirements. However, remember that Williams simply offers requirement (b) because he thinks that any reason that can meet requirement (a) must meet requirement (b). If Williams is wrong that it is necessary for a reason to meet requirement (b) if it is to meet requirement (a), then we no longer have a need for requirement (b). In the second half of this chapter, I will provide an argument for why Williams replies to the externalist definition of a rational agent fail to undermine the externalist argument. Before I make my argument, it may help to outline Williams argument in premiseconclusion form so that it may become clearer why Williams takes the steps he does, and how he uses some of the conclusions he draws to justify other moves. 17

18 If something can be a reason for action, then it could be someone s reason on a particular occasion, and it would then figure in an explanation of that action. To meet the requirement stated in (1), it must be possible for the candidate for a reason to motivate an agent. External reasons cannot by themselves motivate an agent and explain that agent s action, since by their nature external reasons can exist regardless of the content of the agent s motivations. In other words, the truth of an external reasons statement is independent of the motivations that some agent might have. So, if external reasons are to meet the requirement stated in (1), they must be joined with some psychological link. The best candidate for the psychological link needed to meet the requirement stated in (1) is belief. For belief to serve as a link that allows the external reasons theorist to explain how external reasons might meet the requirement stated in (1), the external reasons theorist must explain how it is that coming to believe an external reason statement can motivate. To explain how coming to believe an external reason statement can motivate, the external reason theorist must conceive the connection between acquiring the motivation and coming to believe the reason statement in a way that is distinct from the way in which the internal reason theorist conceives of this connection otherwise the reason in question would amount to an internal reason. To show a connection distinct from the connection offered by the internalist, the externalist must show that whatever motivations the agent originally had, he could come to be motivated by coming to believe the external reason statement in question. 18

19 The external reason theorist cannot show a connection between belief and motivation that is distinct from the way in which the internalist explains that connection, since all deliberation that results in the acquisition of a new motive begins with existing motives. (10) Therefore, the internal reason theorist cannot explain how it is that coming to believe an external reason statement can motivate. (11) Therefore, the best candidate for the psychological link needed for external reasons to meet Williams motivational requirement fails. (12) Therefore, candidates for external reasons fail to meet Williams motivational requirement. (C) Therefore, there is no such thing as external reasons. Before moving on, it is not clear what notion of could Williams has in mind when he claims that for an agent to have a reason to act, it must be the case that the agent could act on that reason. If what Williams means by possible is possible even if we hold constant the agent s motivation, then the requirement comes across as too strong. If, on the other hand, what Williams means by possible is that an agent has the capacity to somehow acquire the motivation to act on the reason, then Williams motivational requirement seems to be a lot more plausible. My Main Argument against Williams My main criticism of Williams argument against externalism is related to two claims he makes. First, he claims that an agent can only acquire new motivations through existing motivations. Second, he claims that if an agent cannot acquire a new motivation regardless of what his prior motivations are then that agent cannot acquire a new motivation simply through rational deliberation. In this section, I will argue that Williams needs to provide an argument for 19

20 both of these claims. I will also illustrate how, even if we grant the truth of the first claim, the argument using the stronger interpretation of Williams motivational requirement will still produce results that the externalist will find undesirable, but external reasons will still meet the weaker interpretation of Williams motivational requirement without a problem. I will now explain both interpretations of Williams motivational requirement and the problems that arise from each. I will first deal with the stronger interpretation. The stronger version of Williams motivational requirement might be stated as follows: (The Stronger Interpretation of Williams Motivational Requirement) In order for ф to count as a reason for A to act, it must be possible for ф to be A s reason for action and figure into A s explanation for that action. The argument that uses the stronger interpretation of Williams motivational requirement is problematic because Williams does not provide adequate support for a key premise of that argument. Additionally, Williams has not shown how another of his key premises follows from an earlier claim that he makes. On the stronger interpretation of Williams motivational requirement, Williams basic argument against external reasons might look like this. (1) In order for ф to count as an external reason for A to act, it must be possible for ф to be A s reason for action and figure into A s explanation for that action. (2) If an external reason ф has the capacity to motivate an agent A (and still count as an external reason), it must be possible for the agent A to become motivated by the reason ф through deliberating correctly. (3) The agent A s acquisition of new motivations can only be caused by that agent A s existing motivations (and so the acquisition of new motivations cannot be caused simply by correct deliberations but also by the elements that already happen to be in that agent A s S). 20

21 (4) It is not possible for an agent A to become motivated by a reason ф simply through correct deliberation. (C) Therefore, external reasons do not exist. There are two major problems with this argument that utilizes the stronger version of Williams motivational requirement. First, Williams has not provided an argument for premise (3). On his stronger interpretation, Williams demands that if something can count as a reason for A to φ, it must be possible for A to become motivated by the reason for ф-ing. He also claims that if the reason for ф-ing is to have the capacity to motivate A, A s reason for ф-ing must be caused by some motivation already present in A s S. 20 Remember that Williams claims that on the externalist account, the statement A has a reason to φ is not falsified by the lack of certain elements within the agent s S. According to the stronger interpretation of Williams motivational requirement and his claim that A s acquisition of any new motivation must arise from A s prior motivations, A has a reason to φ can only be true if the reason in question is relevantly related to the motivations that A already has (and thus also relevantly related to the elements within A s S). By claiming that all new motivations must arise from prior motivations, Williams is simply denying the externalist position he outlined Williams has not actually demonstrated the truth of his key claim that all new motivations must arise from prior motivations and that the sentence A has a reason to φ is thus falsified by the lack of certain motivations the agent already has. Unless Williams can demonstrate that an agent cannot acquire a new motivation except through existing motivations, his argument does not go through. Second, even if it is the case that an agent can only acquire new motivations through existing ones, Williams has not shown how it follows from that claim that an agent cannot 20 Ibid, p

22 become motivated by a reason simply through correct deliberation. An externalist could claim at this point that a rational agent could be motivated simply through correct deliberation by acquiring the motivation to act on an external reason through his existing motivation to do what is rational. In Internal and External Reasons, Williams answers this objection by claiming that this reply does not explain what an agent comes to believe when he believes he has a reason to do something. This is a separate issue, which I will address later in the chapter. To make his argument using the stronger version of his motivational requirement go through, Williams must do two things. First, he must provide an argument for the truth of his claim that an agent can only gain a new motivation through old motivations. Second, even if this part of his theory of motivation is correct, he must prove that an agent can only become motivated through correct deliberation if an agent can acquire a new motivation regardless of what his prior motivations are. Williams has not provided an argument for either of these two claims. problematic. The weaker interpretation of Williams Motivational Requirement is also potentially (The Weaker Interpretation of William s Motivational Requirement) In order for ф to be a reason for A to act, it must be possible for ф to serve as some agent s reason for action on a particular occasion, and figure into an explanation for some possible course of action. On the weaker interpretation of Williams motivational requirement, the basic argument against external reasons might look like this. (1) In order for ф to be an external reason for A to act, it must be possible for ф to serve as some agent s reason for action on a particular occasion, and figure into an explanation for some possible course of action. (2) If an external reason has the capacity to motivate any agent, it must be possible for an agent to become motivated by that reason simply through correct deliberation. 22

23 (3) An agent can only become motivated by a reason simply through correct deliberation if some agent can acquire some new motivation regardless of what his existing motivations are. (4) It is not possible for any agent to acquire a new motivation regardless of what his existing motivations are. (C) Therefore, external reasons do not exist. The argument against external reasons that uses the weaker interpretation of Williams motivational requirement has the same problems as the argument using the stronger interpretation of Williams motivational requirement. Williams has not provided an argument for his claim that an agent can only gain a new motivation through prior motivations. Additionally, it is not clear why it must be possible for an agent to acquire a new motivation regardless of what his existing motivations are for it to be possible for an agent to become motivated by a reason simply through correct deliberation. In other words, it is not clear why Williams claim that an agent can only gain a new motivation through existing motivations has to be false in order for it to be possible for an agent to be able to become motivated by a reason through correct deliberation. For the remainder of this chapter, let us grant that an agent can only acquire a new motivation through prior motivations. While Williams does need to be an argument for this claim, it seems to be a reasonable enough claim and there is no strong reason to doubt that Williams would be able to formulate an adequate argument for it. If this claim is true, then the stronger version of Williams motivational requirement is still threatening to the externalist position, since it would follow that only rational agents could have an external reason to do anything. This is certainly a result that many externalists would not want, since they seem to 23

24 want to say that irrational agents also have a reason to do what is rational. However, even if Williams claims about motivation are true, but his claims about what counts as rational deliberation are false, many candidates for external reasons will still be able to meet the weaker interpretation of Williams motivational requirement. To better understand the way the arguments using the stronger and weaker interpretations of Williams motivational requirement differ, consider the following case. Marcos is a rational agent. He has the motivation and the desire to act rationally, and he deliberates correctly in order to find out how he should act. Marcos discovers through rational deliberation that he should save his money for the future in order to promote his long-term welfare rather than spend it now. In this case, Marcos acquires the motivation to save his money (and thus do what he has an external reason to do) through his existing motivation to do what is rational. Miguel, on the other hand, is not a rational agent, he does not have the motivation or desire to act rationally, and he is not interested in saving his money for the future. Remember that from here on, in evaluating these cases, we are granting the truth of Williams claim that an agent can only acquire a new motivation through existing motivations. However, we are doubting Williams claim that it follows from that theory of motivation that it is impossible for an agent to acquire a new motivation simply through correct deliberation. According to the stronger interpretation of Williams motivational requirement, Marcos has an external reason to save his money for the future, but Miguel does not. This is because Marcos acquired the motivation to save his money for the future through rational deliberation (given his existing motivation to be rational.) Miguel, on the other hand, has neither an internal or external reason to save his money for the future since he is unable to acquire the motivation to do so. According to the stronger version of Williams motivational requirement, Miguel can 24

25 only have a reason to do something if he can be motivated by that reason. Since Miguel cannot become motivated to save his money for the future, he does not have a reason to do so. Both Marcos and Miguel have an external reason to save their money for the future on the weaker interpretation of Williams motivational requirement. Because the reason in question has the capacity to motivate someone, and that someone was able to acquire that motivation simply through rational deliberation, the reason meets the weaker version Williams motivational requirement and still counts as an external reason. Let us consider another example. (The Drowning Child Example) Bob observes a child drowning, and yet has no desire to save the child. Saving the child would not promote any of the ends contained within Bob s S. However, if another person, Steve, had been present and seen the child drowning, Steve would have wanted to save the child. This is because Steve is convinced that he has a reason (x) to help others when possible, and that end has been introduced into his S. Because Steve would be convinced that there is a reason to save the child, he would be motivated to do so. Does Bob have a reason (x) to save the child? For Bob, reason x does not meet the stronger interpretation of Williams Motivational Requirement. This is because reason x does not have the capacity to motivate Bob, and x is not capable of serving as Bob s reason for action on that occasion since saving the child does not promote any end already contained in Bob s S and Bob is unable to acquire the motivation to act on reason x. However, reason x does (even for Bob) appear to meet the weaker interpretation of Williams motivational requirement since it is capable of serving as someone s (namely, Steve s) reason for action on a particular occasion. Just after offering his motivational requirement, Williams claims that no external reason can by itself meet that requirement. 21 He claims that in order to show how external reasons might meet his Motivational Requirement, the external reasons theorist needs to offer some psychological link between the truth of the external reason statement and the motivation of the 21 Ibid, p

26 agent to act on the reason in question. When the external reasons theorist claims that belief can serve as this psychological link, Williams claims that the external reasons theorist must explain what it is that an agent comes to believe when he believes there is a reason for him to ф. The demand that the external reasons theorist needs to explain what it is that an agent comes to believe when he comes to believe that he has a reason to φ is somewhat confusing. Perhaps Williams wants to push a definitional point and ask the external reasons theorist to define the term reason. This is a reasonable question, but it is unclear why Williams might think that the external reasons theorist cannot answer it. Further, it is not clear that Williams has answered his own question. Williams claims that an agent has a reason to do something only if that action promotes one or more of the agent s ends. This is simply a necessary condition, but perhaps he means to offer it as a sufficient condition as well and claim that an agent has a reason to do something if and only if that action promotes one or more of the agent s ends. The externalist might follow Williams example and define reason as follows: an agent has a reason to φ if and only if φ-ing promotes that agent s long term happiness, or an agent has a reason to φ if and only if φ-ing conforms to the demands of some moral system. I do not see any adequate argument provided by Williams in Internal and External Reasons that shows why this potential definition of reason would be unacceptable. In conclusion, the foundation of Williams argument against the existence of external reasons is his motivational requirement, his claim that an agent can only acquire a new motivation through one of his existing motivations, and claim that it is only possible for an agent to acquire a new motivation simply through correct deliberation if it is possible for the agent to acquire a new motivation regardless of what his prior motivations are. In this chapter I have 26

27 shown that there are potential problems with both the argument that uses the stronger interpretation of Williams motivational requirement and the argument that uses the weaker interpretation of Williams motivational requirement. In order to make the arguments that use both the stronger and the weaker interpretations of his motivational requirement go through, Williams needs to provide an argument for two of his claims. First, he needs to prove that an agent can only acquire a new motivation through existing motivations. Second, he needs to show that an agent can only acquire a new motivation simply through correct deliberation if he can acquire that motivation regardless of what his existing motivations are. I have also shown that even if we grant that an agent can only acquire a new motivation through existing motivations, many candidates for external reasons still meet the weaker version of Williams motivational requirement. Finally, I argued that Williams demand that the externalist offer a definition of reason has actually been met by the externalist; the externalist has offered a definition of reason that is at least as detailed as Williams definition. 27

28 CHAPTER 2 A DEFENSE OF CHRISTINE KORSGAARD S SKEPTICISM ABOUT PRACTICAL REASON Introduction In Internal and External Reasons, Bernard Williams argues that there is no such thing as an external reason. He justifies this claim by putting forth a requirement that anything must meet in order to count as a reason. He claims that something counts as a reason to do something only if it can motivate an agent and figure into an explanation of that agent s action. I will refer to this requirement as Williams motivational requirement. Williams then argues that external reasons cannot meet his requirement. A detailed summary of Williams argument against external reasons is contained in the previous chapter. In Skepticism about Practical Reason, Christine Korsgaard agrees with Williams motivational requirement. She argues, however, that in order to show that external reasons cannot meet this requirement Williams must first show that external reasons do not exist she argues that he cannot prove that they do not exist by arguing that they do not meet the motivational requirement. In other words, she claims that it is a mistake for Williams to base his content skepticism on his motivational skepticism. Korsgaard defines content skepticism as doubt about whether external reasons exist at all. She defines motivational skepticism as doubt about whether external reasons can motivate. Korsgaard argues that any doubt about whether external reasons can motivate must be based on doubt whether they exist at all it is a mistake, she claims, for Williams to base his belief that external reasons do not exist on his belief that external reasons do not motivate. Korsgaard claims that in order to prove that a reason cannot motivate, Williams must first provide a good argument against the existence of a process of reasoning by which one might be said to discover an external reason and derive motivation from 28

29 it. Korsgaard explains that it is not acceptable to simply state that external reasons do not exist by pointing out cases in which external reasons do not motivate. In a postscript to Internal and External Reasons published after Skepticism About Practical Reason was written, Williams claims that he has no basic disagreements with the claims Korsgaard made in her paper. This response seems to indicate that either Korsgaard was confused about what is captured by Williams view, or Williams was confused about what is captured by Korsgaard s view. I will argue for the truth of the latter claim. In this chapter I will explain Korsgaard s argument that Williams makes the mistake of basing his content skepticism on his motivational skepticism. I will also explain Korsgaard s criticism that Williams does not provide an adequate argument against the existence of the process of reasoning by which one might be said to access an external reason and derive motivation from it. I will then explain why Williams might claim that he has no fundamental disagreements with the points made in Skepticism about Practical Reason. Finally, I will proceed to explain how Williams must disagree with at least one important point Korsgaard makes in Skepticism about Practical Reason, and I will explain how the truth of Korsgaard s point shows an important flaw in Williams argument against the existence of external reasons. My Summary of Korsgaard s Argument In Skepticism about Practical Reason, Korsgaard criticizes Williams argument against the existence of external reasons, claiming that he makes the mistake of basing his content skepticism on his motivational skepticism. Once again, Korsgaard defines content skepticism as doubts about whether external reasons exist. She defines motivational skepticism as doubt about whether external reasons can motivate. 1 She claims that motivational skepticism has no 1 Korsgaard, Christine. Skepticism about Practical Reason. In Darwall, Gibbard, and Railton, Moral Discourse and Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p

30 independent force, and so it cannot be used to demonstrate whether or not content skepticism is justified. Korsgaard admits that the reason Williams thinks that external reasons cannot motivate is because he thinks that external reasons do not exist at all. She does not have a problem with this part of his reasoning. What she does criticize is the order of his reasoning that leads to the conclusion that external reasons do not exist. For Williams, as for Hume, the motivational skepticism depends on what I have called the content skepticism. Williams s argument does not show that if there were unconditional principles of reason applying to action we could not be motivated by them. He only thinks that there are none. But Williams s argument, like Hume s, gives the appearance of going the other way around: it looks as if the motivational point [Williams motivational requirement] is supposed to have some force in limiting what might count as a principle of practical reason. Whereas in fact, the real source of the skepticism is a doubt about the existence of principles of action whose content shows them to be ultimately justified. 2 She begins her argument for the claim that it is a mistake to base content skepticism on motivational skepticism by first demonstrating that it is possible for an agent to have a reason to do something and still not be motivated to do it. This might occur in one of two ways. The first way in which this might occur is if the agent is not fully informed and he is acting in what he thinks are his best interests. Williams affirms that it is possible for an agent to have a reason to do something and to fail to be motivated by that reason in cases such as this one (where the agent fails to be motivated because he is mistaken about the facts). According to Korsgaard, there is a second way in which an agent might have a reason to do something and still not be motivated to do it. A fully informed agent might know he has a reason to φ and still not able to acquire the motivation to φ. It is unclear whether Williams thinks such a case is possible. Korsgaard says that the second example is one in which the agent can be called truly irrational, whereas in the first case the agent is rational relative to his false beliefs. According to Korsgaard, the fact that this sort of true irrationality is possible shows that 2 Ibid, p

31 if an agent fails to be motivated by a candidate for a reason, this does not show that the reason in question does not exist. Just because a reason does not motivate does not mean that the reason cannot motivate a rational agent. To show that a reason cannot motivate, Korsgaard claims that Williams needs to show that the process of reasoning that can lead to the discovery of an external reason and the acquisition of the motivation to act on that reason do not exist. Korsgaard s argument for the claim that it is a mistake to base content skepticism on motivational skepticism might be summarized as follows: (1) If something can be a reason for action, it has to have the capacity to motivate agents and work its way into an explanation of the action. (2) For an agent to be able to be motivated by a reason, he must be able to (a) discover that he has a reason to do the action in question, and (b) derive motivation from the discovery that he has a reason to do the action in question. (3) It is possible for some agent to meet condition (a) but not condition (b) with respect to a reason that he has. (4) It is also possible for some agent to fail to meet both condition (a) and condition (b) with respect to a reason that he has. (5) To show that external reasons do not exist, it is not enough to show that external reasons do not motivate an agent. (C) Therefore, it is a mistake to base content skepticism on motivational skepticism. Williams tries to show that external reasons do not exist by arguing that anything that met the criteria for being an external reason could not motivate rather than showing that there are no external reasons at all, and that is why we are not motivated by them. However, Williams can still agree with the essential points made in this part of Korsgaard s argument. The fundamental 31

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